The year was 1978. New York City wanted to make it easier to get people from Manhattan to JFK. So, they shined up some subway cars, recorded a catchy jingle and the JFK Express was born. Millions each year flew in and out of the airport. Surely, some would use the service. And, that was the problem. Only some did. At its peak, “4,000 to 5,000” riders used the service, with the number dipping to “3,200” when NYC Transit decided to discontinue the line. Plus, “47 percent of riders” were commuters from its terminus in Queens. So, that’s like 1,600 riders per day specific to the airport.
Now, the latest train to the plane is the proposed new PATH line to Newark Airport. Reports say it could move – trumpets please – about “6,000” airport goers each day! 6,000 per day is the same amount of people that ride NJT daily from Princeton Junction. And, all of this excitement for just $1.5 Billion with construction to commence in 2018. Governor Christie is a fan. And, we all thought Chris hated trains. I mean he screwed hundreds of thousands of commuters each day when he pulled NJ out of the ARC tunnel project. But, apparently his love of trains is because he likes airplanes more, especially if they fly out of Atlantic City. He’s so complex.
After listening to the old JFK Express advertisement, I may have found another reason why Governor Christie is a fan of the PATH extension. This could be an opportunity to revive that jingle. The Governor is fan of catchy jingles.
“You ever heard of Preston Hollow?”
“Not a surprise. It is the middle of nowhere.”
And so began a rather friendly 30 minute conversation with a gray haired Brooklyn man with the greek accent aboard an Amtrak Empire Service train.
His story: He was heading to Hudson, NY and then by car to visit his niece in the metropolis of Preston Hollow, population 366. Which I believe according the Census Department qualifies for the “Middle of Nowhere” designation. His wife was already there and texted him relentlessly. She wanted to make sure he had not forgotten the gifts. He hadn’t. On his side of the table was a small fortress of Macy’s bags.
My story: I was heading to Croton, NY to catch a connecting Metro-North train that would take me the rest of the way home. It was the third leg on my journey from Kennedy Airport. And, to throw a little excitement into the evening, I planned to do it by using trains exclusively. Apparently my definition of excitement is slightly different than most.
The reasons were simple. It was Friday night in New York and I did not want to spin the taxi roulette wheel. My luck, I’d land on – “stuck in traffic in a taxi on the Van Wyck for two hours“. Or, gather round folks, I’m getting hot, I got “stuck in a taxi on Van Wyck with a driver ripe from a day’s driving with just the right mix of BO and cigarettes”. So, I decided to make take the JFK to Cold Spring challenge. Four trains, four transfers and time to grab dinner and drink; all for less than $60.
My JetBlue flight landed at JFK’s Terminal 5 a little after 5p. I gathered my bag from the carousel and a after long walk, I was aboard the AirTrain heading to Jamaica Station. AirTrain is like no other train in New York. Automated, clean and elevated; you have a feeling that you are flying. Unfortunately, your AirTrain flight ends about as fast as it starts a short time later at the crossroads of New York City, Jamaica, Queens.
Now, AirTrain is free inside the airport but to depart at Jamaica it run you you $5 via MetroCard. The MTA or the Port Authority (I don’t remember which one) has an army of people positioned at Jamaica to explain this to people as I can only imagine this payment system might be slightly confusing to someone the first time they use it or who perhaps does not speak English. Note to self: Prepare treatment for reality show based on tourists buying MetroCards at Jamaica. Working Titles: JaMetroCard, Jamaican Me Crazy or As the Turnstyle Turns.
Once through the turnstyles, you have the choice at of either taking LIRR or the E Subway to Penn Station. The E is cheaper but bringing a suitcase onto the subway will make you as popular as Justin Beiber, well, wherever Justin Beiber goes these days. I opted for the LIRR, paid the $7 and away we went.
This train was virtually empty; me, four guys going to Woodside to transfer for the Citi Field train and an airline pilot likely heading to a hotel. We left little before 6p and we were not unloading at Penn until closer to 6:30p. It was always a little confusing to me that it takes 30 minutes to go 13 miles but it likely it has a lot to do with waiting for a slot to go through the already-in-rough-shape tunnels under the East River. But, the ride was faster, the seats were much more comfortable than the subway, and I did not become the Beebs.
I had about 30 minutes to kill at Penn. After scarfing down a sandwich and a polishing off a beer, I made my way over to Hudson News. While perusing the magazines, I noticed that Hudson News is home not only quite a selection of regular periodicals but also a robust pornography section. Makes me wonder, who is buying porn mags at Penn Station? And, if they are, where are they reading them. I mean do people arrive on Amtrak or NJ Transit or LIRR, run upstairs, and say, “Do you have the new Hustler?” “I need the new Hustler!” “Ahh, thank goodness, now I have something to read on my trip to Harrisburg.” I’ve ridden quite a few trains and have yet to see anyone pop-open the porno on the train. Although, Penn Station is not exactly a country club either.
About 7:05p, a female voice came over the loud speaker.
“Attention: Amtrak Train 241, The 7:15p Empire Service to Albany making the following stops: Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck, Hudson and Albany-Rensselaer…now boarding at 6 East”.
After making my way downstairs and onto the train, I skipped the actual coach seat and headed for the cafe car where I could sit down at a table and plug in my dying phone and laptop. The ticket for the 42 minute ride up to Croton cost $38. But, it is totally worth it compared to Metro-North. A coach seat is like a plane seat with first class legroom. The café car tables give you ample room to spread out and work. Plus, you get to meet interesting people, like the greek.
“Can you imagine, I am going to a house with 13 people under one roof. And they are all greek!”
“Sounds like fun.”
Hope they don’t wake up the neighbors in Preston Hollow. Oh wait, that won’t be a problem.